Landslide reveals 2,500-year-old ‘richly decorated’ gold necklaces in Spain

Two “richly decorated” gold necklaces that were likely buried in a hoard about 2,500 years ago recently saw the light of day after a landslide exposed them in northern Spain.

The first of the C-shaped necklaces was discovered by Sergio Narciandi, a man working for a water supply firm tasked with finding a water source in the municipality of Peñamellera Baja of Asturias, a mountainous autonomous community, Pablo Arias, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at the University of Cantabria in Spain and an archaeologist involved with the excavation, told Live Science.

Recent fires in the area caused a small landslide that shifted the soil toward the spring, exposing the gold to Narciandi on Aug. 29. Word of Narciandi’s find got to Arias, who joined other archaeologists and staff from the local Archaeological Museum of Asturias at the site. Before long, they discovered an additional treasure — part of a second necklace, and metal detectorists quickly helped to locate the remaining pieces.

An initial inspection based on style and technique dated these necklaces to around 500 B.C. during the Iron Age of Iberia, a region that is now Spain and Portugal, according to the Spanish news outlet El País.

Related: ‘Powerful, maybe even frightening’ woman with diadem may have ruled in Bronze Age Spain

The ancient jewelry pieces, which show signs of wear, were likely worn by upper-class members of society, CNN reported.

These particular types of thick neckwear are known as torques (or torcs), from the Latin word “torqueo” meaning “to twist,” reflecting not only their often coiling shapes, but also the way in which many of these necklace types were crafted. Similar gold torques discovered on the Iberian Peninsula weigh over 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram), with the heaviest found in northwestern Iberia to date weighing nearly 4 pounds (1.812 kg). The weights of the newfound Asturias necklaces have not yet been reported, though the artistry among the Asturias finds and other Iberian examples is similar.

The newfound necklaces may have been made by Celtic peoples whose goldsmiths crafted them from a central rods with wound gold spirals, according to The History Blog.

Both necklaces were probably part of a hoard, “a deliberate hiding of valuable objects; a type of context which is very frequent in Atlantic Europe during the Bronze and Iron Ages,” Arias said in an email.

Most likely, Arias noted, the necklaces were either buried in a pit or within a perishable container, like one made of wood or leather, that has long since decayed. Soil samples were taken for chemical analysis to determine if such materials may have been present.

The Torques de Burela, a gold torque housed at the Provincial Museum of Lugo, which is similar to the one recently discovered in Spain. (Image credit: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga)/Wikimedia Commons)

In this case, although Arias said the necklaces are “richly decorated” with skilled artistry readily apparent, “It is very important that people realize that the archaeological importance of a find [lies] more in the context than in the object itself.” The surrounding context — for instance the fact that they were likely buried in a hoard — can shed light onto the society, culture and craftsmanship of the period, which can be of higher significance than the gold necklaces themselves.

Researchers are now using nondestructive techniques to determine where the necklace metals were mined and how ancient artisans pulled off their gilding techniques, The History blog reported.

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